Jack and Maggie Starr ran the Starr Syndicate, a comic strip distributor started by the Major, his father, her late husband. Maggie, a famous ex-stripper, is Jack’s stepmother and handled the business end and Jack was the troubleshooter, a licensed P.I. with only one customer: the Starr Syndicate. It was his job to keep things clean in the world of strips and the talent, the writers and artists.
In A KILLING IN THE COMICS, Jack is attending the fiftieth birthday party for publisher Danny Harrison, publisher of Americana Comics. Things go bad when Donny, wearing the costume of their number one superhero, Wonder Guy, collapses as he’s about to cut the cake, accidentally falling on the big knife in his hand, driving it into his chest.
Only it wasn’t an accident as poison is found in the dead man’s tissues. The knife may have actually hastened a death already on the way.
Jack joins in the case wanting to head things off before word got out to the public bout the accident that was really a murder.
Plenty of suspects from the two men who’d created Wonder Guy as teenagers, only to be paid a pittance for the rights and worked on the books and strip as work-for-hire talent to the creator of the second biggest hero, Batwing, to the mistress to the wife. It goes on.
Max Allen Collins has created a fun pair of detectives in this first novel and the second.
In STRIP FOR MURDER, it’s 1953 and Jack and Maggie Starr have another murder to solve. Sam Fizer, creator of the strip MUG O’MALLEY, one of Starr’s biggest strips, is found slumped over his desk in a clumsily staged suicide. Shot in the left temple, his left arm dangling, a gun lying on the floor below it, there were several things wrong with the scenario.
Fizer was right-handed, the gun was wiped clean of prints, and the drink n the desk was loaded with sedatives, enough to put him out with one gulp.
It looked like a frame job as chief on the suspect list was Hal Rapp, creator of the TALL PAUL hillbilly strip, Fizer’s one time assistant, the two men in a twenty year long feud. Rapp also happened to be negotiating with Starr for a new strip. A pen found on Fizer’s desk had a fingerprint belonging to Rapp. He lived on the floor above Fizer and was throwing a Halloween party at the time of the murder.
There were plenty of other suspects also, including Maggie and Jack. Their Starr syndicate owned the rights to the Mug O’Malley strip and, upon his death, they would control who wrote and drew it, as well as a lion’s share of the profits.
These two novels were a lot of fun. Artist Terry Beatty, long time associate to Max Allan Collins, drew the cover and interior illustrations. Each chapter has a cartoon panel on the first page with the chapter number and title in a word balloon, something relating to an incident in the chapter. There’s also a half dozen pages of comic panels near the end of each, a summing up, a look at suspects, just before the killer is uncovered.
Quite a lot of fun these two. Mr. Collins’ writing style is very smooth, one I zip through quite easily on everyone I’ve read. I don’t hesitate to buy one of his books whenever I can. Well, except for one. Not his fault though, considering the material he had to work with, a movie novelization and I could tell from the trailer I wouldn’t much like what they’d done to an old sixties TV series I much admire. For that reason, I won’t watch it or read Mr. Collins’ novel, though I darsay he likely much improved it.
These two are highly recommended and I understand he’s written a third for Hard Case Crime.